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Obama tries to put human face on plea for tougher gun laws

by

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told the heartbreaking stories of lives shattered by gun violence in a speech viewed by tens of millions of Americans on Tuesday, part of his pledge to bring the full power of his office to a push for tougher gun laws.

In an emotional finish to his annual State of the Union address, Obama urged Congress to hold votes on measures to expand background checks, prevent gun trafficking, ban assault weapons and limit the size of magazines, saying victims deserved to have their elected officials vote on the proposals.

"They deserve a vote," Obama said, calling out the names of communities scarred by massacres, Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, Tucson, Blacksburg. "They deserve a vote."

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been trying to build public support for gun control after 20 children were shot in their school in Newtown, Connecticut, a day Obama has said was the worst of his presidency.

But they face an uphill battle against a powerful pro-gun lobby and a strong U.S. tradition of hunting and gun ownership. The right to bear arms is guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution.

Among the two dozen gun violence victims in the gallery for Obama's speech were the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, sitting next to Michelle Obama. Pendleton, 15, was shot and killed on January 29 in a park in Chicago.

"She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend," Obama said.

"Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house."

Obama is expected to address gun violence again on Friday in a trip he plans to make to Chicago to discuss goals laid out in his State of the Union address.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Jim Loney)

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